Earlier this afternoon, the Denver Broncos concluded their fourth day of training camp. Some players have flashed moments of brilliance, while others have struggled getting up to speed early on. There is a lot of camp left to go — which will provide ample opportunities for those who have struggled to date to make up ground and impress the coaches in order to cement their spot on the final roster. With that said, here are five key takeaways from training camp thus far.
Isaiah McKenzie is going to be a dynamic weapon for the Broncos
Back in April, Christmas came early for Wide Receiver Coach Tyke Tolbert — who wanted some dynamic playmakers to add to his receiving corps. John Elway and his scouting staff obliged, and added some much needed juice to their roster with the selections of Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie.
Henderson was known for his game-changing ability as a receiver in college, while McKenzie became a household name in the SEC for his ability to take returns to the house at a moment’s notice. If you would have asked me a week ago, I would have expected Henderson to have flashed the most so far in camp, but so far that has not the case.
To date, McKenzie has outplayed Henderson in the early days of camp and looks poised to play a huge role for the team in 2017. Not only has McKenzie been as advertised in respect to his punt returning prowess, he has flashed big play ability as a receiver. If all goes well, he will certainly will have the chance to make an impact in that regard for the Broncos’ offense.
McKenzie donned the “5” jersey throughout OTA’s and three days of training camp, but stormed onto the field today wearing the famed “84” jersey. That’s a great sign that he will undoubtedly make the team’s final roster.
While Henderson had struggled in the first three days, he appeared to be much more comfortable with the pads on and had several quality receptions on the fourth day of camp, including a laser-beamed throw from Paxton Lynch on a crossing route that went for big yardage.
Maybe Carlos Henderson needed the pads on? Big catch and run from the rook on a cross from Paxton.— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) July 30, 2017
The learning curve for wide receivers’ entering the league is one of the highest of all positions, so I wouldn’t be too worried about the reports and quotes surfacing that Henderson has struggled to date. If he and McKenzie continue to grow and prove their worth over camp and the preseason, the 2017 Broncos’ receiving unit may be the best they have fielded in quite some time.
Garett Bolles will be the team’s opening day starter at left tackle
As I wrote yesterday, the battle for who will be the team’s opening day starter at left tackle is over. It’s a wrap, it’s a done deal. First-round draft selection Garett Bolles has fought his way to the top of the depth chart, supplanting veteran Ty Sambrailo — and it’s safe to say he isn’t in danger of losing that spot anytime soon.
While it was always advertised as an open competition, it was hard to envision a scenario where Bolles wouldn’t be starting for the team this season. Sambrailo has struggled immensely since coming into the league, and his injury history has undoubtedly impacted his ability to grow as a player. I look forward to seeing Bolles in action during the preseason and hope that his penchant for nastiness on the field will help take the Broncos’ offensive line play to a much more competent level during the regular season.
The right tackle position is still a huge cause for concern
As noted above, Bolles has flashed a lot of promise and earned his way to receiving sole first-team reps at left tackle, but the situation at right tackle is a significant cause for concern. Menelik Watson is penciled in as the starting right tackle right now, but he has struggled immensely against Von Miller thus far.
Von Miller just hit Menelik Watson with the spin move and ... oh dear.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) July 28, 2017
Offensive line play is hard to evaluate without pads on and it’s no surprise that any player would struggle battling Von Miller on a consistent basis. However, Watson had a shot at redemption earlier today in full gear, but that didn’t seem to matter much. Reports indicated that he struggled all day, and consistent pressure on his side led to several “dead plays” as well as forcing several errant throws that led to interceptions by both quarterbacks during team drills.
Von Miller beat Menelik Watson like he stole something today. #Broncos— TJ Carpenter (@TJCarpenterShow) July 30, 2017
As a Florida State fan who witnessed Watson’s miracle year with the Seminoles that put him on every team’s draft radar, I was excited to see what he would become when he reached the pros. Unfortunately, his career has been ho-hum and negatively impacted due to injury. It’s quite possible that Watson will prove to be better than Donald Stephenson or anyone else on the team’s roster at the position, but I would bet my bottom dollar that finding a bookend tackle to pair with Bolles will be a high priority for the team in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The coaches are still trying to figure out who will replace Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett
Injuries to Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett have thrown a wrench into the team’s defensive plans at outside linebacker, but have given opportunity for young pass rushers such as Vontarrius Dora, Kasim Edebali and Ken Ekanem to let their presence be known. Edebali is the player receiving the most praise from his fellow players and coaches, but that hasn’t stopped the Broncos from experimenting and attempting to find another solution to their depth issue at the position.
Second-round selection DeMarcus Walker will now be seeing action at outside linebacker for the team. Today he was seen working closely with Linebacker Coach Fred Pagac and was receiving tips and tutelage from Von Miller. It’s a surprise move that has been made due to injury, but Walker is a versatile player and a terrific pass rusher and you can count on him doing whatever is necessary to help the team out.
However, this isn’t the role anyone envisioned for the former Seminole standout once he was drafted. Walker played 3-4 defensive end and was kicked inside to play defensive tackle in their 4-3 alignment. Contrary to what’s being propagated on Twitter, Walker does not have much experience at the position. However, he is certainly talented enough to make the switch, but don’t expect it to be something that the team will have him do long-term.
With each day that passes, Paxton Lynch inches closer to becoming the team’s starting quarterback
Today including rough outings for both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, who both struggled in drills and had several throws in red zone drills picked off by members of the No Fly Zone. Head Coach Vance Joseph wasn’t impressed with what he saw, and noted that both of them had their fair share of issues on the fourth day of camp.
Vance Joseph not happy with the quarterback performance today. Vocal about it. "No, not really. They both had issues." #BroncosCamp— Chad Jensen (@ChadNJensen) July 30, 2017
That being said, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. After a rough start early on, it appears that Lynch was able to rebound and make some great plays during team drills. That is the type of play the team needs to have, regardless of who is named their starting quarterback.
Lynch was clearly the better QB. Siemian was terrible. 4 near picks & a pick six. Lynch made some great throws & responded after bad start.— Ian St. Clair (@IanStClair) July 30, 2017
If you make a mistake, you darn well better come back and correct it. Lynch was able to do that today and is something that Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy acknowledged to my colleague Ian St. Clair after practice.
While Siemian was 5-for-5 in one of the drills, he didn’t accumulate much yardage through the air and appeared to be very cautious with where he was placing the ball. By most accounts, this was Siemian’s worst practice to date, with several reporters in attendance noting his struggles.
Two more near-INTs in one period -- after Stewart's near-pick off Siemian, Harris nearly got one. "No-Fly Zone" dominant.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) July 30, 2017
Siemian picked off by Doss to end practice. No Fly Zone dominated today. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) July 30, 2017
Overall, it was a bad day for both quarterbacks. Certainly, there still is a lot of work to be done for both of them. That being said, it will likely come down to the wire and their preseason game performances before a final decision is made.
In my opinion, if Lynch continues to grow as a player and improve over the course of the preseason, he will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2017. If the battle is close, I think he will be given the edge when the final decision is made for a few reasons. Without question, his upside far surpasses Siemian’s. I also believe he has more big play ability that can help propel the Broncos’ offense to new heights this season.
If the team wants to make a splash this season, they will go with Paxton. If they want to play it safe and attempt to squeak out victories with a game manager, they will go with Trevor. I’ll let you take a guess at which of those scenarios John Elway would prefer.
As always, thank you for reading and stay tuned to Mile High Report for the latest news from training camp.